It’s been a little more than a week and life in Bogotá has been both chaotic and mesmerising at the same time. The hustle and bustle of getting a place to rent, dealing with the cold weather with one insignificant blue sweater, sorting out finances and immigration documents, budgeting for fast food and groceries, deciding on whether to buy those cheap fancy boots or save for a comfy thick blanket, battling internally on which mountains I love more; Trinidad’s Northern Range or Los Cerros Orientales, dealing with homesickness, hearing Spanish 95% of the time and being forced to speak it and Oh My God also not being able to use Trinidadian Creole English but Standard English when I do finally get the chance to speak English all add up to having a true unique experience that I could only have ever dreamed of.
Classes will officially begin on the 16th of August at my University so I cannot yet write about my experience as a Language Assistant, however I can give you some insight about what I’ve experienced so far.
I have been going to and from the University everyday to sort out schedules, meet students and do workshops and presentations.
Contrary to what I anticipated, it is very modern and up to date with respect to technology, perhaps because of the fact that it is a private university. There are coffee machines and during an introductory class the staff distributed coffee in miniature cups to both the students and the teachers. I’m no coffee lover but how cool!
Empanadas and arepas are like Bogotá’s ‘doubles’. It’s the most popular street food and you can find many shops/stalls close to the universities. It’s usually what I have for breakfast on most mornings; an arepa (like a mini sada roti) with eggs and cheese, and one is quite filling for a tiny person like myself. It’s also cheap like $6TT which is good considering that I’m on a budget.
I am hoping to put on a few pounds by the end of this academic year 😂.
Part of the travelling experience includes cultural shocks one of which is having to throw the toilet paper in the bin after use. As strange as it may sound it’s actually not so bad and I got accustomed to it by the second day. What I particularly like here though is the relatively cheap cost of living in comparison to Trinidad. The thing is you have to figure your way out through the markets and streets, explore but don’t go wandering off, ask questions but not too much, and you learn so so much. As I mentioned before, Bogotá is no sun sea and sand. It’s cold especially if you go further up into the mountains, so cold that your hands get numb. Your skin can also dry up and start to peel off with the coldness. I knew this before so I came prepared with my coconut oil. Even though it turned into jelly and is no longer an oil it still helps with the dryness. I mean I don’t want to go back to Trinidad looking like a dried up piece of fried fish.
Security is priority in Bogotá, ironically. These locks I tell you! The amount of gates and doors that one has to get past to reach their final destination! In my case, my room 🙁 It was so frustrating that it drove me to tears one day and also because I could not use a cigarette lighter to light the stove. But back to the locks, I realized that it wasn’t just only me but also my other fellow Trinidadians who complained about the difficulty in opening the doors with these locks and keys.
Another outstanding thing about Bogotá is the people themselves. The people here are very friendly, outgoing and so welcoming. I am immensely grateful for having a fantastic admirable tutor who helped me and the other language assistants at the university from day 1. My landlady has also been so hospitable, offering to show me around all the time. She even listens to bhajans and has pictures of Hindu Gods and Goddesses which makes me feel more at home. Every morning she would listen to these spiritual Colombian songs which sound like country music but it just adds to the unique Colombian experience. I was also offered the opportunity to go hiking on the mountains one day by my Colombian friend living in the same apartment which is also something spiritual for them. She is part of an indigenous population. I can’t wait!
The mountains. I feel like this aspect needs an entire section for itself. Whether or not you have a passion for nature you’d definitely fall in love with these mountains. I have been to Cerro Monseratte, for instance, and the view from there is breathtakingly amazing. I was able to get a closer look at the mountains, so lush and green and a stunning view of the city, buildings as far as the eye can see. The mountains are not only a great beauty to meditate upon but also a landmark, a way of guiding me to where my university and apartment are located. I remember taking a Tappsi one day from the immigration office and just as I was thinking that we had almost arrived, the driver was going away from the mountains! I panicked because I knew that going the opposite direction from the mountains meant that I’ll end up somewhere where I’m not supposed to be. But eventually I saw us approaching the glorious mountains once again and understood that the structure of the roadways had us going in said direction. By the way, Tappsi is an extremely efficient, convenient, reasonable and safe taxi service to use 24/7 providing that you download the app and have access to data or Wi-Fi.
Transportation in general here is highly reliable and efficient in my opinion. In addition to Tappsi, there’s the Transmilenio which works like a train system but instead of trains there are buses on different lines. I personally like it. It may seem confusing at first but with the help of the Transmilenio App and Google Maps, I was able to find my way around places. Yes we are technologically dependent. It makes life easier. Or if you don’t have access to Internet at all, no worries, upon entering the bus station you can look above and listed out are all the stops of each bus. However you have to know where you are going obviously, that is, which station to drop off at. Also, if you don’t get a seat, hold on tight to the pole otherwise you’ll be flying to the other end of the bus or on top of someone’s head because it’s so packed anyways.
Being in Bogotá so far has been overall overwhelming. It’s relieving to open my apartment door and throw my bag and myself on my bed at the end of the day. Don’t get me wrong, I love this experience and this opportunity so much but after a long day in a strange place with strange people I always look forward to coming back to my apartment and just delving under my thin blanket (I still haven’t bought a thick comfy one because someone decided to get the cheap boots instead), delving into social media talking to familiar people, listening music or watching some shows, just having some ‘me time’.
I must say, the most important thing for me in living in a new country or city thus far is to simply have an open mind and always be optimistic with whatever challenges you may face. That is, be open to learning different cultures, be open to sharing your culture and customs too, be open to meet and confront different people and just look at everything like it’s an adventure. There is so much more to experience and see here. I can just feel it. Carpe Diem!